Undersecretary of Energy for Science Paul Dabbar said the department is working to emphasize its research capabilities to the space industry in areas from rad-hardened electronics to quantum computing. Credit: Dept. of Energy

WASHINGTON — The White House has added the Secretary of Energy and two other officials to the roster of members of the National Space Council.

In a statement issued late Feb. 13, the White House announced that the Secretary of Energy, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy had been added to the membership of the council. President Trump signed an executive order amending the 2017 order that formally reestablished the council to add them as official members.

“The Department of Energy’s research and capabilities have long contributed to American space exploration priorities,” Scott Pace, executive secretary of the council, said in the statement. “DOE National Laboratories conduct critical research to develop technologies necessary for powering human spaceflight, lunar surface operations and future missions to Mars.”

The department has, in recent months, worked to emphasize the roles it can play in space. While best known for its work in nuclear power, such as producing the plutonium used for radioisotope power systems that power deep-space missions, it has played up the much wider range of research it supports that could have space applications.

“I think the reality is, of the $18 billion or so a year of R&D spending that we have, most people don’t understand the breadth of what we currently do,” said Undersecretary of Energy for Science Paul Dabbar in an interview in November at the SpaceCom Expo in Houston, where he spoke about the various lines of research, from quantum networks to radiation-hardened electronics, where his department sees potential space applications.

At the time, Dabbar said that while the department was not part of the National Space Council, it was in “constant dialogue” with agencies who were, such as NASA, on topics of interest. That includes the effect that satellite megaconstellations like SpaceX’s Starlink will have on astronomy, as the department funds some astronomical research, such as an instrument on what is now known as the Vera C. Rubin Observatory under construction in Chile.

In a separate panel discussion at the SpaceCom Expo, Conner Prochaska, chief commercialization officer at the Energy Department, said there was a “space coordination group” at the department to discuss what capabilities it could offer to the space industry.

He added that the department was, at that time, an observer to the National Space Council. “Maybe we’ll get invited to the big boy table at some point.”

The Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, one of the two other new members of council, chairs the National Economic Council, which advises the president on domestic and foreign economic issues. That position is currently held by Larry Kudlow. The Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, Joseph Grogan, chairs the Domestic Policy Council, which addresses a wide range of domestic policy issues outside of economics.

“The addition of the Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow and the Director of the Domestic Policy Council Joseph Grogan reflects NEC’s and DPC’s strong support for growing the space economy and streamlining regulatory burdens in the space sector,” Pace said in the statement announcing their addition to the National Space Council.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...